Tag Archives: Synaesthesia

Singer Lorde discusses her music-colour synaesthesia with Australian 60 Minutes

EXTRA MINUTES | How Synaesthesia helped Lorde write the hit song ‘Green Light’
https://www.9now.com.au/60-minutes/2017/clip-cj42kq9mn002m0hul2e1la6yu

 

Great little book about the human brain

“Memories, it seems, are made as a result of a spider’s web of neurons firing together because of shared, strong connections. Strands of the web reach across different parts of the cortex and deep down to the hippocampi, the guardians of our memory bank.”

I think this quote, from the pop science book How your brain works by New Scientist, explains why memory superiority seems to be associated with synaesthesia. It’s all about connectivity.

I recommend the book to anyone who is interested in neuroscience and psychology. It is just a modest paperback, but the content seems to be up-to-date, balanced, scientifically credible and covering areas of research that aren’t the same old stuff that you see over and over in pop psychology books (and 1st year uni psychology textbooks). The panel of academic contributors (one from Western Australian universities) and the editors have produced a book that is a joy and not a waste of time to read.

Where are the yellow bits?

The other night we were watching RocKwiz on SBS and the band and a guest singer did a cover of Goodbye Yellow-Brick Road, a major early 1970s hit by Elton John, which was a very nostalgic experience as I haven’t heard that tune much since the 1970s when by best friend was a mad-keen Elton John fan. Two things struck me: what a great and unusual song, with interesting lyrics and music that rather reminds me of another unusual and sad hit tune (How Soon is Now? by The Smiths), and what amazingly high falsetto singing the hit recording had, but the most interesting thing that I noticed when I heard the cover-version was that the bright-yellow pineapple-jelly bean-flavoured bits were missing.

They say you don’t notice things until they are gone, and I hadn’t realized that the falsetto bits of the original recording had been, for me, such a dominant (visual) feature, till I listened to a relatively colourless but enjoyable cover version, with decipherable lyrics. That amount of falsetto in a rock song is I think quite typical of the psychedelic era when the tune was created. Would it be pushing an idea to far to say this is a psychedelic recording? I don’t know why, but most of my favourite music, since I was a kid to now, has had some element of psychedelia; hypnotic repetition, extreme forms of singing, unusual instruments, unusual sound effects, extreme emotionality, etc.

Tunes that I listened to as kid or teen seem to be more often coloured than music from recent years, I guess because synaesthesia is less likely to form anew as one ages, just as new brain connections are less likely to form. It seems likely that I got the idea of that song as a yellow song from the title, but this merely abstract idea becomes an experience only when evoked by that singing, Elton’s yellow singing.

The yellow-deficient cover-version:

Vale Chris Cornell

For me the human voice in song is one of life’s greatest pleasures. For synaesthetes enjoyable experiences are often coloured. Many but not all voices of popular singers have specific colours, in my experience: men’s voices typically brown, women’s red, baritones deep brown, counter-tenors and falsetto yellows and whites, harsh Italian tenors shining gold, but there was only ever for me one orange singing voice – that of Chris Cornell, the late singer of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame. Orange is the colour of experiences that are so intense that they are close to painful.

Does fascinating advice from a super-polyglot utilize a psychological effect unknown to science?

Tell me about your key technique for learning a new language, and how it works

I call it shadowing. I shadow the audio of the target language by listening to it through earphones and speaking along with it as fast as I possibly can. I’ve found the best way to do this is while walking outdoors as swiftly as possible, maintaining a perfectly upright posture and speaking loudly. [and he goes on to further discuss]

Hooper, Rowan You had me at halla. New Scientist. Issue 3110 January 28 2017 p.42-43.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23331100-800-i-could-speak-a-different-language-every-week-for-a-year/

This is advice from Alexander Arguelles, who can speak around 50 languages, so it is definitely advice to take seriously. The part of the advice that interests me is the walking fast with an upright posture. This implies that bodily perceptions or perceptions of the position/location of the body in space, and movement, are important in boosting learning. This part of the advice fits in nicely with a phenomenon that I’ve described in at least one previous post in this blog, years ago, in which vection or actual physical bodily movement through space (in the form of walking outdoors while looking around) seems to evoke a cascade of thought, or somehow add fluency or speed to the normal train of thought (which could be described as the stream of consciousness or daydreaming). This effect is important to me (a super-recognizer synaesthete in a family that seems to have a gene for ease of learning languages and spelling) because I’ve found that when walking or driving a vehicle I get useful and creative and novel ideas that don’t happen when I’m not doing such activities. I also find that taking a shower (indoors!) has a similar effect, and I think the link to the outdoor activities is that parts of the brain that deal with bodily movement and visual-spatial perception are activated. I’ve observed that outdoor visual perception of movement through space or actual movement seem to promote thought or creativity, while it appears that Mr Arguelles has observed that this kind of experience promotes learning. As I’m a synaesthete who is interested in synaesthesia (specifically types involving visual memory and links between visual memory and conceptual thinking) I’ve suggested that this is actually a type of synaesthesia – experiences as one type of stimuli (visual-spatial) triggering or promoting, inside the brain, experiences of a very different type (language learning, combining discrete abstract concepts in thought). I don’t adhere to the idea that there’s a very sharp demarcation between synaesthetes and non-synaesthetes, but nevertheless, I’d be very interested to know whether Mr Arguelles is a synaesthete. Certainly there’s lots of evidence linking synaesthesia with superior memory, which a super-learner such as Mr Arguelles must surely possess.

Is the effect that I’ve identified and described embodied cognition? Is it a type of synaesthesia, enjoyed only by a minority of the population? Is it both? Neither? Has it already been described and named in the scientific literature? I don’t know. Does it need a name of it’s own? Visual-spatial stimuli-boosted cognition?

Lorde and other top musicians see music in colour

Yes, it is synaesthesia. No it ISN’T a disorder, or bizarre, or cross-wiring, or an affliction…..

The New Daily  journalist does indeed very much deserve to have his article bombarded by angry comments from offended synaesthetes. It isn’t clear why he is reporting this story now as it appears that Lorde having synaesthesia is old news from 2015. Interesting anyway.

http://thenewdaily.com.au/entertainment/music/2017/04/28/lorde-synesthesia-music/

http://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/do-you-have-synaesthesia-a-look-at-the-condition-that-means-lorde-sees-sound-in-colour-14639

http://www.musictimes.com/articles/51099/20151017/lorde-reveals-wanted-comedian-tumblr-q.htm

 

 

Ed Kuepper 2016 performance at MONA features a backdrop that resembles musical synaesthesia

Those arty people at the Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania are right into synaesthesia.

1 is white and E is yellow.

True.

A Swiss psychiatrist made to look an ass by synaesthete kids. I love it.

 

A. Reichard, G., Jakobson, R., & Werth, E. (1949). Language and synesthesia. Word, 5(2), 224-233.

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00437956.1949.11659507

 

Pop singer Alessia Cara describes her synaesthesia experiences on The Project

Alessia Cara. The Project. Ten Network. February 27th 2017.

https://tenplay.com.au/channel-ten/the-project/extra/season-8/alessia-cara

 

 

Artistic talent and super-recognition?

I’ve had my nose in books, as I do, and I’ve read that some great artists had very “vivid” visual memory, which would presumably be a different thing to creativity. Names such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Michelangelo have been cited. So this made me wonder whether I have or once had a level of artistic talent to match my excellent visual memory for faces. I’m not a visual artist. I don’t do visual art as a hobby even. I do enjoy taking photos, but nothing technical or fancy. I do enjoy creating things. I enjoy working with colour. I love going to visual arts events, as you can see from my blog. But I don’t think anyone would identify me as an artist. As a child, I think perhaps people would have. Children are encouraged to express themselves in visual art, and I obliged, as did most kids, and I also enjoyed art enough to do it in my own time at home. I did art as a year 12 subject and enjoyed it but didn’t take it hugely seriously. Perhaps being myopic but never identified as such during my school years limited my ability to draw. Perhaps my ability or interest in art is attributable to my synaesthesia, independent of my face memory ability.

Unlike so many aspects of my childhood, I remember,  in striking detail and vividness, creating art as a young child.  I remember the colours and the names of colours in a large watercolour set given to me as a young child. I remember drawing the intricate wrinkles of my own hand with the other hand at home. I remember the colours of my pencils in grade 1, and the colours of the little dyed wooden shapes we were given to learn about numbers. I remember being laughed at in grade 1 when I showed the class a painting I did at home using perspective. I remember thinking at the time that my classmates were idiots. I remember the simple joy of looking at things, even tiny things or objects of no particular importance to most people. I remember being fascinated and entranced by the structures and colours of found objects such as bird feathers and sea shells. I remember discovering that beach sand is made up of grains that can have striking and vastly different colours: dark brown, bright orange, magenta, white, transparent like glass. As a young lady I got decent marks in art in year 12 and I think my art reflected an ability or a willingness to simply draw what I saw, rather than reproducing some abstract idea of what I thought a tree or a vase should look like. My art teacher said I had ability but failed to develop it, and I think that probably sums the story of my artistic talent.

Are you a super-recogniser? Are you also an artist? Are you a super who is utterly lacking in artistic ability? What do you think? What do you know?